Tucson to Host Human Trafficking Awareness Conference January 14

| January 7, 2012

Modern-day Slavery Happens Around the World…and in Arizona

Slavery did not end with the Emancipation Proclamation. In fact, there are more people in slavery today than ever in human history—approximately 27 million people, more than 4 times the population of Arizona. Human trafficking, including both sex and labor trafficking, occurs not only in developing countries, but also right here in southern Arizona.

Human trafficking is not the same as human smuggling (illegal immigration), despite the terms often being confused. Human trafficking  involves labor or sexual services extracted through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, i.e., modern-day slavery.

“In June 2011, a 15-year-old Tucson girl was rescued by police after being forced into prostitution in the San Tan Valley,” says Jerry Peyton, director of local anti-trafficking nonprofit Streetlight Tucson. “She was manipulated, beaten, and coerced by a cruel pimp.”

“She is the tip of the iceberg,” Peyton says.

It is difficult to determine the full scope of human trafficking in Arizona, since the trade is clandestine by design. However, the US State Department estimates that there are 14,500-17,500 people brought from abroad to the US every year for sex or labor trafficking, to say nothing of domestic victims. Organizations who work on the issue agree that the problem is growing at an alarming rate.

On January 14, a coalition of local organizations will host “The Abolition Conference: Combating Modern-day Slavery,” a conference designed to raise awareness of human trafficking. Nationally-recognized keynote speakers will address the international, national, and local dimensions of human trafficking, and a dozen different workshops will educate attendees on topics including labor trafficking in Arizona, sex trafficking in Pima County, healing for human trafficking survivors, and more.

“Awareness is absolutely critical to the anti-trafficking movement,” says Dr. Karna Walter, chair of Southern Arizona Against Slavery, a local nonprofit. “Most Americans don’t even know that slavery still exists. But the issue is so morally unambiguous that when they do learn about it, many people will be compelled to become modern-day abolitionists.”

To that end, conference organizers hope to provide tangible ways for participants to get involved with anti-trafficking work. Just a few of the opportunities will include volunteering with local organizations, advocating for relevant legislation, and using art and music as a platform for awareness.

The Abolition Conference will take place in the University of Arizona Student Union Memorial Center Grand Ballroom from 8:30am to 4:00pm on Saturday, January 14. Tickets are $45 ($25 for students) and group discounts are available. To learn more and to register, visit www.abolitionconference.com.

Sponsoring organizations for the Abolition Conference include Southern Arizona Against Slavery, Streetlight Tucson, the University of Arizona Honors College, and Soroptimist International of Desert Tucson.

“In an age of partisan politics, it is refreshing to work on an issue that is truly non-partisan,” says Andy Hall, another activist with Southern Arizona Against Slavery. He references a recent case from just two months ago in which a 14-year-old Phoenix girl was repeatedly sold for sex in Phoenix and Las Vegas via online classified ad site backpage.com. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican,” says Hall. “That is just plain wrong. Nobody is pro-slavery. It’s an issue that can bring people together.”

SAAS members protesting sex trafficking

Author Andy Hall and SAAS members protesting sex trafficking site

Andy Hall is a founding member of Southern Arizona Against Slavery, a community coalition fighting all forms of human trafficking in Arizona and around the world. A graduate of the University of Arizona, he created his own interdisciplinary bachelor’s degree focused on modern-day slavery in East Asia. He hopes to continue his education with a law degree and use it to prosecute perpetrators of human trafficking. Andy is married to Chelsea, who is also an anti-trafficking activist.

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